About six years ago when my boyfriend and I returned from vacation, his cat, Zane, decided to stop using the litter box. He preferred the kitchen floor. Every day, sometimes twice a day, a tiny pile of offensive matter piled perfectly in the center of the kitchen. The toilet paper and disinfectant spray were always close at hand. We took the disagreeable substance to the vet; there was nothing therein that indicated alarm. We took Zane himself to the vet; they said he was fine. Sometimes when cats get older, they told us—he was nine years old at the time—they just make up their minds. Hundreds of dollars later, they suggested that we get in touch with a cat behaviorist. He could see things that we couldn’t. He would fix the problem for $400. He made a series of home visits, asking us questions about what kind of litter we used, what sort of food and treats Zane liked, which toys and sleeping areas were his favorites. The behaviorist’s prescription: Play with Zane more often with this free cat dancer toy, and scoop the litter twice a day. We wondered whose behavior he was modifying. The kitchen floor remained soiled every afternoon. Then we found Brenda.
Brenda Cunliffe is an animal communicator. That is, she communicates telepathically, even over long distances, even if your pet has passed on, with your beloved furball. You might call her to try and decipher why your pet might be acting in a particular way, to share your feelings about an upcoming move or new roommate, or if you are simply interested in finding out why your companion stares for hours at the corner.
Brenda is not a psychic—she can’t look inside a cat’s brain and tell you things that the cat itself doesn’t know, and in this way she is definitely not a replacement for veterinary care—but she might be able to tell you, for example, why your cat is shitting on the kitchen floor every afternoon. Here’s how it works: you email Brenda to set up an appointment, she takes your credit card details over the phone, and you give her a small bit of information about the animal in question: name, age, and breed, if known. She is happy to see a photo of the pet, but it’s not required. Then she sets her telepathic senses loose, connects to your pet and for $50 you get 30 minutes of facilitated communication, in English, with your cherished, furry family member. For $30, you get fifteen minutes. For $100, you get an hour. She also does farm or barn visits if you live in Florida, where she resides.
Brenda told us—or rather, Zane told us through Brenda—that at some point, he was jumping out of the litter box and something underneath him slid, he slipped, and now he was scared to go back to the box. For good. He was in no way going back to the box. Brenda told us he was adamant. We asked Brenda to tell him that we would make sure that whatever surfaces—rug? bathmat?—that were on the floor outside the box would be slip-free. She told him this, he said he was grateful. The behavior continued off and on—pee in the box, poop on the floor—Brenda warned us that Zane was stubborn and not too excited about changing his ways. Then, very shortly after that, my boyfriend and I moved in together in Ditmas Park.
Now we had three cats in the same apartment, a duplex—Zane was finally introduced to Bean and Bad Thing, sibling cats who had been with me since they were only six weeks old. Zane and Bad Thing bonded instantly, inseparably. Bean, the quieter, gentler soul, was relegated to our downstairs guest room. (Sorry, New Yorkers, for that stabbing feeling in your spleen when I describe my Brooklyn apartment as having a downstairs guest room.) Territory was claimed—boys upstairs, the Bean all alone downstairs. Periodically, the boys crept down to inspect the Bean’s space and she would hiss and lunge at them from under the bed. The boys would scamper back up, seemingly afraid for their lives. If Bean, ever curious, snuck upstairs to explore, the boys would immediately attack. We felt helpless. Introduction techniques gleaned from the Internet all failed. They hated each other, the end. It went on like this for three years.
Zane passed away, then Bad Thing passed away, both from natural and beautiful old age, and Bean was suddenly queen of the roost. A few weeks went by, and I woke up one morning to find her lounging on the desk in my office. She meowed her tiny, perfect, sweet little meow. We moved her food and water to the upstairs, and she has remained with us up here ever since. Then she started urinating in undesirable places. On the welcome mat. On the Egyptian leather ottoman. On the guest bed so often we kept it covered in a plastic sheet at all times. Was she marking her territory? Was she ever going to stop? We called Brenda.
We asked Brenda to ask Bean how she liked her new living situation. Brenda said Bean said she liked it very much, and Bean remarked that the floor itself was very different, and that it was sometimes confusing to her. (We have tile downstairs and hardwood upstairs.) We asked Brenda to ask Bean how she was feeling, if she was achy or having any physical problems. Bean noted that she felt like one of her kidneys was a little smaller than the other, and that sometimes her skin felt a little bit itchy, but other than that she felt fine. Bean said she would very much like to have some of the special food that the boys used to eat. For a lot of reasons only other cat owners will understand, the boys always ate canned food, Bean ate the dry stuff. We asked Brenda to tell Bean that she would have canned food every night! We asked Brenda to ask Bean if she liked her new watering set up. (Since Bean had moved upstairs, she had inherited her brother’s habit of drinking only out of a dripping faucet.) Bean said she loved that the water was so much colder!
Then we asked about the peeing everywhere. Bean told Brenda that she was often confused about where her litter box was. Bean is 17 years old, and she does often seem bewildered about where she might be. You know how you sometimes walk into a room and forget what you’d gone in there for? Bean has that, well, constantly. Brenda told us that she would explain to Bean that when she pees in other places it creates a lot of work for us, and every time she has to go #1 she should concentrate very hard and ask herself the question: “Am I standing in litter?”
Then Brenda told us that there was a spirit cat in the house who was coming through very strongly, and had a lot to say. The spirit cat was brownish gray, with stripes on the side, a male, very insistent. This was clearly Bad Thing, who had left us a few months earlier, and whose personality had clearly remained with him in the afterlife. Bad Thing told Brenda that Bean was very messy, and she was always knocking the sweaters down from the shelf. This is true: Bean’s favorite hiding place is the lowest cubby in my closet organizer, previously the home of a stack of sweaters, now covered in white fur and fallen onto the closet floor. (So long, purple cashmere.) Bad Thing told Brenda that under no circumstances are we to get a dog after all the cats in our home have passed—Bad Thing demanded that there be cat energy in our home, always. Bad Thing told Brenda that he would make lots of mischief around the dog, especially in the kitchen. This was our plan, though, to get a small dog. We’d talked about it off and on for a year. We wondered if the cats had overheard.
When people ask me about what Brenda can do, I usually tell them that I don’t necessarily believe in it exactly, but I also don’t not believe it either. A lot of you reading this are probably thinking that Brenda is a quack and we are idiots for giving her money. But we have always used Brenda’s skills in conjunction with veterinary care, as a way of looking more wholly at the problem. I believe that living beings communicate in varied and subtle ways and who am I to say that Brenda’s gift is a ruse? I tell everyone that her track record is pretty great, and this time around especially, for a stranger who lives 1150 miles away in Vero Beach, who doesn’t know us at all, and who doesn’t know much about our cats, she seemed to get a lot of things right. Which is not to say that calling Brenda should be some kind of test. If you aren’t open to what might come through the channels, what’s the point of picking up the phone?
Say what you will about the sweaters or the tile floor, or the small dog and the canned food. But since that phone call, Bean hasn’t peed outside the box once.
Lee Houck was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His stories, essays, poems, and interviews have appeared in numerous chapbooks, anthologies, and journals in the U.S. and Australia, online, and in his almost-monthly old-school printed zine, “Crying Frodo.” His debut novel, Yield was published by Kensington Books in 2010. More at LeeHouck.com